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Living in gratitude should bring freedom, not guilt, dismissal of self, or a false presentation of who we are or what we feel.


Why Gratitude Works

How being thankful helps you focus on what’s real and keeps you in the present.

By Jade Emerson Hebbert
Illustration by Amber Davis

In a modern world filled with constant comparison, instant gratification and success seeking, gratitude has lost its place in the collective consciousness. And yet, our modern existence of burnout and the it’s-never-enough mentality require a return to gratitude even more. Bringing gratitude back into everyday practice, whether it is through gratitude lists, journaling or leaving index cards with one thing you’re grateful for written on it, brings people into the present. And that is a good place to be.

“Gratitude begins as an internal state in our heart and overflows into the way we interact with others, our environment, and perspective on the way we live,” Allison Dillard of Fort Worth Counseling and Intervention says. “With gratitude we are able to overlook small frustrations and treat bigger problems in a more gracious way because we are taking in the difficult problems with a balanced perspective.”

Thoughts have a way of creating our reality; thus, choosing positive thinking leads toward forward movement. Gratitude works in twofold, by both accepting the responsibility of recognizing our own perspective while also releasing the self-placed pressure to control every situation.

“We often have a false sense of guilt in holding responsibility that isn’t ours to hold. Gratitude doesn’t mean a chipper attitude all of the time or having to smile at everyone who walks by. Instead, gratitude can be the path we choose to walk in the midst of grief and suffering, the hope we cling to in continuing to live though we have lost what’s important to us, and the guide for the intentional path we walk as we move through life,” she says.

Grateful living is not something that follows the achievement of a goal, success or happiness — it is the catalyst for mindful, positive thinking that begins by accepting and appreciating the present, she says. But this is not the same as delusional positivity. It is based on what actually is. When people list their blessings, they are listing things that are true. When people list their worries and fears, they are listing events that have never happened and probably never will.

“I have often heard people say they feel guilty for acknowledging their pain because they have so much or there are other people in the world that are suffering more,” Allison says. “Each individual’s pain and traumas are different, but all are valid and deserve attention to be addressed. To ignore pain and wounds just to be positive moves us into toxic positivity, not true gratitude. If we are noticing pain, negativity, wounds, or traumas, it’s important to stop and process them.”

Over the past year, whether knowingly or not, people have had the opportunity to reevaluate their perspective through the things once taken for granted. As we begin to move back into a new sense of normalcy, we have the chance to bring gratitude into our daily lives, she says.

“I think we can practice gratitude daily by identifying three things we are grateful for, choosing to see each new day as a gift in which we have a purpose to fulfill, and choosing to not wish we were anywhere else,” she says. “I encourage individuals to identify two positives for every one negative they see, whether that is in relation to self or others. It’s important to keep a balanced perspective in the way we approach ourselves and our surroundings.”

Even in the pain, in the disappointment, and in the ingratitude, gratitude is present. As soon as we let grace replace the hold guilt once had on gratitude, grateful living becomes a real, possible and accessible transformation.

“Life is about balance. No one is perfect or is supposed to be perfect. I encourage gratitude to be an overall perspective that brings you peace and contentment as you walk through life, not judge yourself for one more thing you aren’t doing. Living in gratitude should bring freedom, not guilt, dismissal of self, or a false presentation of who we are or what we feel,” she says.

This is what it means to live in gratitude: happiness, balance, simplicity, freedom. This is what it takes to begin: a conscious shift toward being mindful of blessings no matter how few you think you have. This is when you should start a life of gratitude: now.

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